Saturday, April 27, 2013

Piano jazz: The full Monty

I had an extended conversation a couple of weeks ago with pianist Monty Alexander when preparing a profile for the May issue of Hot House, which is now posted online. Among the topics we covered:  the enduring popularity among some listeners (myself included) of his classic live trio recording, Montreux Alexander (MPS), from Switzerland’s 1976 Montreux Jazz Festival. I consider it one of the very best live trio recordings. It happened during a three-year tour with bassist John Clayton and drummer Jeff Hamilton, who had been classmates a couple of years earlier at Indiana University.

“We never talked about it, but we’d hit the bandstand and people would be riveted, grooving with the three of us making music,” Alexander said. “Every night was like Montreux. It was such a thrill. It ran its course, and everyone went on and did great, great things. I really can’t explain it. Whatever I was then, and whatever they were, we came together like the Three Musketeers. I keep hearing from people that it is one of their favorite records.”

The magic is still there. Jamaican-born Alexander’s newest release, Uplift 2 (JLP) teams him with Clayton and Hamilton on most tracks. Ahmad Jamal’s “Night Mist Blues” and the traditional “Battle Hymn of the Republic”) are on both CDs - and are among the warhorses in Alexander’s repertoire. “The tunes never get old…. Every time I go play, I feel like it is a new tune to play. It is the first time, because I love what I do,” he said. “I just let something mystical happen with the attitude and the joy of seeing people hearing the notes coming from the piano.”

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